Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like a Rock Star
Little Brown, 2010

In a reading month that included War and Peace and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, you can imagine that I was craving something a little lighter.

Enter Amber Appleton and her loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy, in the pages of this brightly covered YA novel.

I liked her tone. Snappish and clever. It was just what I needed. I took it home from the library with some quite-possibly-bleak-but-brilliant Canlit and considered myself lucky.

Or, that’s what I thought anyway.

But here’s Amber, only a few pages in: “I mean it’s a pretty pathetic story, and I’m not really all that proud to be my mom’s daughter right now. Homelessness reflects badly on both of us. True? True.”

Oh dear: is Amber just Tess of the D’Urbervilles dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt?

She certainly has so many different names for her dog that she could slip him into a Russian novel with the appropriate amount of confusing nomenclature.

I worried that I wasn’t as far from those two exhausting classic novels as I’d thought.

“Another thing: Mom’s taste in men is akin to a crackhead’s taste in crack cocaine. Any old hit will do.”

Okay, a stretch from Hardy and Tolstoy, but less than ten pages into the novel, I realized that this isn’t going to be the light reading I’d expected.

But there are certainly aspects of Amber’s life with her mom, on Hello Yellow, the schoolbus her mom drives — their belongings stored in the two storage bins beneath the wheels so that nobody ever sees them — that are positive. And Amber has a set of seven happy memories about her life with her mom that stand in contrast to some of the hard bits nowadays.

It’s clear Amber is a survivor. And she has a big heart. I fall for that combination easily.

She’s also got a great support system. And those characters are fun to read about.

At first they edged towards the too-good-to-be-true column in my reader’s analysis, but then explanations began to fall into place, and I was on board.

And, anyway, it’s certainly not a too-good-to-be-true tale.

The novel takes a completely unexpected turn midway.

“I decide to quit being Amber Appleton, which isn’t to say that I change my name or anything, I just decide that I can’t keep living the way I used to live — swinging for the fences, believing that things are going to work out, that everything is worth fighting for, and that I am brave and strong enough to change my reality, because I’m not and I can’t.”

Amber announces this after the kind of tragedy that you really do think belongs in a Russian novel. And I can’t tell you what that is. And I can’t tell you why you should keep reading past that point. But I’m glad I did.

Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like a Rock Star was just the book I needed at this reading juncture.

Has a book unexpectedly rescued you from some adjacent tragic reading lately?